The beautiful butterfly pattern was a favorite among Japanese aristocrats as early as the Nara period (710 A.D.-786 A.D.) and appears to have been favored almost exclusively for its elegance. Even before the period of Japanese heraldry, warriors frequently displayed this pattern on their armor, and - perhaps revealingly - men of the ill-fated Taira (heike) clan were known to be particularly fond of the butterfly design. The Taira's were at a loss (confused) when they were destroyed at the "The Battle of Dan-na-ura" and their soul (spirits) were transformed into butterflies. If we view the situation in this manner, the eyes of the Swallow-tailed Butterfly (Age Ha-cho) are somehow filled with suspicion.

During the period of high feudalism, when bloodletting reached a peak in Japan, the docile butterfly somewhat paradoxically enjoyed great popularity among upstart warriors selecting a family crest for the first time. To a large extent, this symbolized the other side of the warrior's harsh life -- his susceptibility to the effete graces of the courtly society. Among designs based on living creatures, the butterfly motif enjoyed by far the greatest popularity.

There exists over 100 different basic forms of the butterfly crest. During the Tokugawa era, approximately 300 butterfly crests used by the daimyos (feudal war lords) and the hatamoto's (direct retainers or vassals of Tokugawa). This subtle delicate form was the reason it was favored.

Researched & compiled by Ted Togashi -- July 1992

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